question is the hardest to answer: Just what is Thematic Comparative
Comparative Literature can be a lot of different things and that is
one of the pleasures of it, but it isn't just doing anything you want.
We feel that the main core of Thematic Comparative Literature is that
in your study of literature you make comparisons across cultures (and
languages), comparisons across time, and comparisons between literate
and oral traditions. All of the comparisons are guided by a theme.
is one of our best means of understanding minds other than our own.
And by learning what others have thought we come to understand our own
thought more deeply. This means that the study of literature is
usually comparative in some way. You generally compare periods or
styles or works written in different forms such as novels, essays,
plays and poetry. Normally these comparisons are all done within a
single literature such as English literature or Ancient Greek
aspect which makes Thematic Comparative Literature different from
conventional literature programs is that we emphasize comparisons of
literature from different cultural traditions. We have included in our
model course works from the18th Century, 19th Century, and modern
American literature including contemporary American ethnic writers. We
have Third World contemporary works. We have works from the oral
traditions of Ancient Greece, 16th Century China, Ancient Hebrew (the
Old Testament), and contemporary Tlingit and Eyak. We also include 19th
Century Russia. and modern German works.
Our goal is
to provide breadth more than depth. We prefer the broadest possible
picture of human response to perennial issues over a narrower and more
specialized local focus. By making our comparisons across cultures we
like to bring to our own attention the problem of translation and
interpretation that we all face with any great work of literature. For
most contemporary Americans the language of even Herman Melville in
the last century is almost a foreign language but it is easy to forget
that. The language of our own Constitution in the 18th Century is hard
for many of us to follow. We believe that it is essential for
contemporary students to retain (or gain) their fluency with the
English of other times as well as the thought and concepts of other
times and cultures in order to live meaningfully in our present world
of constant cross-cultural contact and crisis.
Thematic Comparative Literature is a response to the inherent biases
of many literature programs. The history of literature is often the
history of a privileged elite. We try to take into account the shaping
forces of gender, ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic status, both
as areas of study and as they influence our understanding and
interpretation of literature.